How heavy a crown can be?
It was the most glorious night of my life. A table of finest marble, a stunning game against the best
junior maestros, spotlight, flashing cameras, cheers and finally a prize-crown on my head and the title
of Champion of the much revered Athena Cup, the first woman ever winning that honor.
Interviews, appeasing faces, champagne and toasts. I was the center of the universe, the idol in the
eyes of admiring fans, the focus of envying curses.
I cared not. Euphoria ruled supreme. The taste of victory drowned out everything: reason, courtesy,
humility. The feeling of invincibility was overwhelming.
"You are really wonderful, Sophie!" It was Jim Tyson, a young journalist who followed the game from the
first round and had been placing his bet on the right horse, so to speak.
Another flattery. He was good-looking though and this made the remarks even sweeter.
"I am? Well, I guess you are right."
"How can life be so unfair? You have such a pretty face, all the charms and a mind that can be said to
rival Athena's. And she was not even half as pretty as you."
"You are exaggerating." I adjusted the copper crown on my head and my fingers brushed against the
icon of the ancient goddess of wisdom.
"Not a bit. I think you are the new goddess of the century."
I laughed. "If you say so." I answered casually.
Suddenly I had this strange feeling, as if time had frozen, that those beaming people in the foyer of the
hotel had been all turned to stone, that the sound of their laughs was released but never echoed back,
that something horrible was about to break upon us. It lasted for only a few seconds, or it might have
been shorter than that. Then the flow of the party resumed, there was more wine, more laughs, more
gaiety. Yet everything seemed no longer concerned me. I felt so disconnected, I could not concentrate
on any thought. May be it was the champagne, I thought. I knew I need a quiet place to sit down and
rest and clear my head. I pulled myself together the best way I could and snaked my way through
babbling crowds whose words no longer held any meaning to me. Finally, I made it to the ladies
restroom. I pushed the door open and walked in.
It was empty.
I tried to make my way towards a compartment so that I could sit it out and allow the alcohol to dissipate
from my confusing brain.
And then it happened.
And the lights went off, one---by---one.
I could not even scream.
I was in a sort of hall.
Long, dark, cold.
A straight path lay in front of me, illuminated by a few torches placed on tall, round columns. The path
led to huge doors at the other end. Something inside me told me that I had no choice but to walk down
that path. I took a deep breadth, braced myself and started walking.
I reached the doors. They were of bronze and looked heavy.
I gave it a push and to my surprise, it slowly swayed back to reveal a huge room. It was the most
splendid room I had ever saw. The floor tiles were of beautiful white marble, the tall columns with their
Corinthian capitals seemed carved out of jade of various colors. There was a table in the center which
drew me towards it like iron to a magnet. When I got close enough, I saw what it was on the table: a
The pieces were beautifully carved out of material I could not make out but more strange was the
design of the pieces. On the opposite side were figures resembling hoplites lining up, ready for battle.
The tips of their long spears glistened in the pale light of the room. Behind them were men on
horsebacks and chariots with grim faces. The only exception was the figure for the queen: a tall dark
figure with a veil over her face.
The side nearer to me were no less strange. They were amazon-warriors, the pawn line were dressed in
simple garments of black corsets and short dresses, carrying round shields and double-edge axes or
short swords . The rooks were maiden-archers in white frocks on chariots, the knights wore scanty
leather armour, carrying curved blades and the pieces representing the bishops were high prietesses
with magic staffs. The Queen was a tall piece in leather bodice mounted on a war-steed, and used a
scimitar as a weapon. To my surprise, the "King" was also female and wearing a white robe revealing
her slender neck and the upper part of her breasts. All the figures were veiled.
"Welcome, Sophie. Why don't you sit down?"
It was only then I realized the figure sitting opposite me, a veiled woman in bronze armor.
"What is this?" I asked. "Is it some kind of hoax?"
The woman chuckled. "No, not a hoax, but a game, a very serious game. In fact, a game of life and
"What do you mean?" I was puzzled.
"To make things simple. You and I are to play a game. If you win, you leave her safely. You will also
receive a wonderful gift that will give you more glory in days to come. If you lose." She made a hand
movement across her throat.
"You are mad!" I shouted. "I refuse to go along. If you would excuse me, I will go back to my party."
She laughed aloud. "How?"
I turned. And to my horror, two giants with halberds had blocked the exit. I was trapped.
"Why do you do this to me? I will call the police."
She was unmoved. "Sophie, you do not seem to understand your predicament. This is far more serious
than you think. Look."
She raised her right hand and the darkened portion of the room brightened up.
There was also a chess-game set up there. But instead of carved pieces, the pieces were of human
dressed exactly as the ones between the veiled woman and I.
"If any piece is taken in our game, he or she dies."
A game using human beings as pieces!
"You are insane." I hissed.
She was not enraged. "Perhaps. But you have no choice. If you do not play, I would just order those two
behind you to chop off your little head."
"You wouldn't dare!"
I looked at the giants, then turned back and look at her, at those two icy eyes. Something made me
She meant what she said.
I sat down, and began to play.
I opened with the Queen's pawn.
As expected, the life-size amazon also took two steps forward.
She countered it in the same fashion and the hoplite marched to confront my girl.
I moved another pawn up.
She smiled, doing the same.
Both of us were careful, building up our defenses first before moving to the offensive.
After a few moves, I felt strong enough to attack.
I used my first pawn to capture one of her pawns.
"Wait, are you sure you want to do that? You will also lose your pawn in my next move?" she put her
hand over mine to stop me from removing her piece immediately and said.
"No pain, no gain." I was defiant.
"Very well. Done!"
She let go of my hand. I took the pawn.
Immediately I head the clash of metals on my left. My amazon was attacking the hoplite and after a few
strikes, she scored a direct thrust through his armor. There was a cry of agony as he knelt, a hand over
I jumped up! There was blood, too much blood to be a fake stunt. It was real!
The hoplite fell back, sprawled on the floor. The visor over his face flipped open. It was a handsome
face. "Was" I say, because we all knew he was dead!
Two servants ran in and dragged the body away, another mopped the red blood stain to return the tiles
back to the original spotless state.
"Sit down. My move."
She used another hoplite to capture the victorious amazon.
I turned in horror to the left. There was a brief clash and sure enough, my amozon was then skewered
by the long spear through her breast! Uttering a cry of despair, she dropped to the floor. The veil was
blown off the face.
"No! "It was Lydia, a team-mate of my chess club!
"Oh, yes, Sophie. I told you, it is a game of life and death and their lives, " she made a pensive sweep to
her right, "are in your hands. So, you better play wisely."
"I will not do it." I shouted.
"No? If you refuse to play, our maidens, would all die, and all because you refuse to fight on for them.
By the way, I forgot to let you know. You, are the sovereign of your side and this figure here, " she
pointed at the figure with the white open neck dress, "if that is captured, you will be crucified!"
I darted my gaze to the figure, then realized in horror that it was in the same kind of dress I was
wearing. I turned back to the floor. The white "King" was missing, or rather, represented only by a Saint
Andrew's of sort.
"Yes," she continued. "If you lose, you will be standing there where that Saint Andrew's is and meet
your own death. Now, sit down and play."
I sat down, sweat all over my body.
I thought hard, trying to find a way to end the game with the minimal chance of having to capture
another piece, or let another one of my pieces go down.
But she was too strong.
I killed another hoplite, and she killed one of mine.
This time, it was Sernea, another one of my club mates. She tried to defend herself against a charging
knight from the other side but received a vertical cut down the front of her body, splitting the frock and
exposing her breasts. She arched back and writhed in agony before expiring.
"No, please! Please stop!" my tears flooded over my face.
"Play!" The voice was icy cold.
A sudden fury rose within me. I would beat her. I was determined to win this game and teach this mad
woman a lesson. I am the best, the crowned champion! I can beat her! I will beat her!
I began to mobilize: my rook, my knights and one of my priestesses. I also moved up my queen.
"Good moves! "She mused.
She jumped her surprises.
If it was a normal game, I would applause. It was a good move.
I lost a knight.
I turned and saw the beautiful rider being pulled down her saddle, her light armor stripped from her as
she struggled and then a spear rammed into her abdomen. It was Katjia, the opponent whom I had
beaten in the second round of the tournament and had since become friends!
I killed her bishop, using my chariot-girl arrowing him down.
She avenged her man forwarding her other bishop.. The archer girl shrieked out in despair as her
chariot was overturned and she rolled across the tiles, only to have her head hacked off by a helping
hoplite. The head rolled to a stop, the opened veil revealing the face of Diana, one of my childhood
"But that is impossible! She is in Canada and she does not even play chess!"I protested.
"Nothing is impossible here. Play!"
I counter-attacked, killed her bishop but lost another two of my pawns: Eva and Gloria! Eva was stabbed
by a dagger in the heart by a Greek warrior who had torn off her breastplate. He even committed
necrophilia with her body before releasing it to the waiting attendants to drag it away, Gloria was simply
beheaded in the fight.
I looked dazed as her broken body was also towed away.
I exchanged one of my priestesses with another one of her knights.
To my horror, when the veils of the fallen amazon were removed, I found myself looking at the faces of
my cousin: Angela!
Then she moved her queen forward and struck my remaining rook from the board. Tania, my sister, died.
Her queen was also threatening me, the white "King"!
"Check!" She announced without any show of emotion.
I surveyed the board. There was only one way to save the game, by sacrificing my own Queen by
throwing her into the fray. I also suddenly found a way to win this game. Once both queens were dead,
my advanced pawn and remaining priestess could go all the way in and check-mate!
But who was behind the veil of my Queen?
I had lost too many of those close and dear to me. What price must I pay to save my own skin?
"Make your move!" she demanded.
I put my fingers on my queen-piece and glide her towards the opposing queen, knowing too well that
she would suffer death in the following move at the hand of the waiting common hoplite. A sudden
breeze blew in the room and I turned to look at the waiting warriors. The veil of my Queen was lifted for
a brief moment.
It was Lara, my lover!
"Ah, so, you are a lesbian, as I have always thought." My opponent mused at the discovery.
Our eyes met. There was tears in my Lara's eyes as she slowly removed her helmet, placed it down
beside her and knelt to offer her neck, fully knowing death was inevitable.
"No! No! No!" I refused to release my fingers to put it down.
"Do it! Do it to save your own skin!" The veiled opponent urged.
I shook my head. It was wrong. It was all wrong from the start. I could not sacrifice her, I should not
have sacrificed anyone. I thought I could save them through winning. But they had died one by one. It
was enough. I could not let them kill Lara too, right before my eyes.
I stood up.
"I lost. I resign." And I pushed the white "King" down.
"Do you know what prize you will have to pay for this?" The victorious player asked.
"Yes, I will die on the cross. But please, let the rest of my team live."
"I do not think you understand how horrible it is to die slowly on that cross. "
"I do not care."
"Very well. Take her there!" She gave the order.
My arms were held by two strong hands and I was dragged to the waiting cross. They spread my limbs
and had them secured on the beams, then torn open my white dress to reveal my sweating body. I
could feel my chest heaved. I would give anything to have my breasts kissed and loved once more by
How long will it take for me to die?
My opponent rose from her seat and approached me.
"I will be merciful. You will meet a quick death instead of lingering on that thing for hours, perhaps
days. And I will let your friends free."
"Thank you." I said, meaning it, as I gazed at the hooded man who approached me with a huge
"They will live. My Lara will live. Please live."
I closed my eyes and arched up, offering my chest and awaited for the pain.
It did not come.
I did not know how, but when I open my eyes, I was again sitting at the table.
"Do you know who I am?"
I shook my head.
She took her veil down.
My mouth dropped open. I found myself facing the goddess Athena.
Suddenly, I understood. I was punished for my vanity.
Athena nodded her head, her bright eyes drilling into my soul.
"Always remember, it takes more than intelligence to wear a crown and vanity is the worst enemy of any
sovereign. You should have died but for one thing, you are saved. Do you realize what it is?"
I looked up at her, uncomprehending.
"Compassion. If you had pushed on with the game, hoping to win, even at the cost of sacrificing your
beloved Lara, you would have perished on that cross. You did well, Sophie and for winning over your
own vanity, you will have the gift from me, the gift of life, for all those who have died because of you."
It took a few minutes before I realized what she meant. I looked to my left and there they were,
complete set in their armor, alive!
"Thank you, thank you." I was touched beyond words.
And then I went black in a brink.
I found myself sitting on the floor of the ladies'room. My clothes were intact.
"Wake up, Sophie. I am so worried for you." It was Lara.
I wrapped her into my arms, kissing her passionately.
"What happened?" She asked.
"It was so odd, so unexplainable. I will tell you tonight, when we are in bed."I said and held her tight.
"Sure. Now just be a good girl and stand up! You can tell me all about your dream afterwards."
I did as she was told.
But I knew it was not a dream.
Inside my palm was a piece, a carved chess piece, a female figure in white dress, fit for a newly
crowned queen, or one to be tied to a Saint Andrews.
And under the base was carved a word, a reminder: ευσπλαχνία
I knew it was Greek.
It meant "Compassion."
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Comment from: Nastassja
Date: January 24, 2012
Hitomi, this story just fascinated me. I have read numerous tales that used the
metaphor of people as chess pieces (most notably one I loved as a teenager,
called "The Warlock of Night", by Dahlov Ipcar), but the way you layered in
mythology, psychology (and passionate violence) is something to marvel at.
The ending, with it's expression of the power of compassion, really moved me.
Oh and I love the Klimt painting of Athena decorating this one. I love Klimt,
and I never saw his depiction of the goddess of war and wisdom before!
yours with admiration,
Comment from: Hitomi
Date: January 28, 2012
Thank you, Nastassja.
The Klimt painting was the idea of Othello and I agree it is a marvelous
When I finished this story, I was not very sure if it would be well-received as it
is not as "solid" as the others but it proved to be ok.
Of course, I have dreams (fantasies) of chess-game with real warrior pieces
too (I am a lousy chess player though) with slaughter of taken pieces on the
board, especially when queens are sacrificed. (LOL)
Thank you for your comments.
I think Othello may post a new story ("The Singer") within the next few days
and I like that very much. I hope you will like it too and I wait eagerly for your
comments on the other two stories (may be you have already commented on
them but Othello or Chris are both too busy to put them up).
Comment from: Othello
Date: January 28, 2012
Sorry I ran behind a bit in posting comments, Hitomi. But all of the column
comments throughout the site are now updated. And yes, I'll soon be posting
your fine new story, "The Singer".
I enjoyed this story, "Mate", very much. I think I know what you mean about it
not initially feeling as "solid" to you as some of your other works...like you, I
often write stories that require significant amounts of research, and are
written with meticulous precision to provide a framework for the passions
they explore. Every now and then I veer from that and write something very
quickly, almost "off the top of my head", depending on my memory for
references, history, or other details. Those are fun, and often have a unique
energy to them. This story felt a little like that to me; I think it was very
I'm glad you like the Klimt Athena. I have always loved that image, and when I
read your story, it leaped right into my mind.